Drone Mapping is Crucial for Disc Golf Course Creators and Innovators
Plus a Self Photogrammetry Study of WACO F9 using JomezPro Footage
Photogrammetry is the process of taking photographs of an object or terrain from multiple angles and overlaying the photographs using specialized software to produce a 3D model or map of the object. Photogrammetry has many applications: Land surveying, engineering, real estate, construction, and even medicine, to name a few.
Videogrammetry is basically photogrammetry, the only difference being the photos are being pulled from a video at a certain time interval rather than taking individual shots. The accessibility of commercially produced drones has made this process much more accessible to the public. Or you could outsource to a company like Fly Guys, who will fly drones for you to create these models.
Why Disc Golf?
So lets get to the point. Why Disc Golf? Well, golf course models have been created using drones to help cut maintenance costs, for marketing, and for creating a game plan for players. Although Disc Golf is still in its growth stage, the number of players drastically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, many courses are free or operate on an honor system (“drop $10 in the bucket”). However, with the rapid growth of players, better courses are going to start charging more money to keep up with course maintenance demands and to continue to grow the sport. Then comes the question: How do we make better courses?
Drones. Drones. Drones.
And no, I’m not talking about the Discraft Drone! There are many applications for drone use in disc golf: course creation & design, hole mapping, accurate tee signs, and course marketing.
When designing a new course, you need to survey the land to figure out how the course will be laid out, what obstacles you’ll face in the construction of the course, and how can you utilize the land to create hazards for play. These 3 factors are critical in making a unique and interesting course that will keep players coming back for challenging rounds.
Once a course is created, mapping each hole can be done efficiently and effectively with drones. Mapping each hole will give players who haven’t played the course a game plan for what discs to throw off the tee, as one example. It will also allow the course designers to create much more accurate tee pad signs. How many holes have you played where the trees aren’t outlined properly on the tee-sign? Or the basket is 50 feet closer/farther than you expected? Or worse, it says the basket is to the left of the tee pad but wait, IT’S ON THE RIGHT??? Oh no! Creating tee pad signs from aerial shots of a 3D map of each hole allows for perfectly accurate tee signs and a much better player experience.
I wanted to try out this process myself to prove that it could work. However, I don’t have my own drone to fly. This posed quite a problem, until I realized I did have something to work with. JomezPro disc golf production does a drone fly through at tournaments to give the spectators an understanding of the layout of a hole. I clipped these fly throughs and utilized 3DF Zephyr Free to create my own 3D models of a few holes at WACO. These clips were taken from the 2021 WACO Annual Charity Open — F9 JomezPro coverage. All credit for these screenshots and footage go to JomezPro.
Brazos Park East — Waco, TX Drone Photogrammetry Study Using JomezPro Footage from 2021
- Doesn’t model the tree on the left of the fairway past the large bushes
- Many trees in the model are missing the middle part of the trunks (stumps / flying limbs)
- Basket is not captured very well
- Trees again only captured as stumps and/or floating limbs
- Original fly-through of the hole provided by JomezPro was stitched together & the drone locations were not overlain properly so only the 1st section of the hole is shown
- Quite nicely shows the “tunnel shot” aspect of this par 3
- The changes in elevation are calculated nicely by the model
- Trunks are more visible in this tunnel shot
- Another tunnel shot shown nicely through this model
- Again, the trees in this fairway are more solid, with the trunks more visible
- Model accurately portrays the valley below basket and hazards on sides
- Another tunnel shot interpreted well by the model
- Certain areas struggled with y-axis (in/out) depth
- Fairway trees yet again picked up more solidly in this tunnel hole
- Yet again, this long hole had stitched drone fly throughs making it so only the end of the hole was rendered by the model
- Being in the woods, much of the verticality and fairway trees captured well
Important Takeaways from My Experiment
Using Free Software Creates a Barrier
Zephyr Free only allows 50 photos for rendering — this issue would be easily avoided by simply giving more photos per second to Zephyr to generate the 3D point cloud. Given the 25–30 second clips from Jomez, I fed the model a 2FPS rate. Utilizing the full version of Zephyr would result in much cleaner models of these holes. The rendering of the ground and its topography would also benefit greatly from having more photos fed to the 3d modeling software.
Using Direct Fly-Throughs Poses a Problem
By feeding the model fairway fly-throughs of each hole, certain aspects were not properly rendered by the model. For one, trees in the fairway were often depicted as stumps with possibly flying limbs (their trunks weren’t properly rendered). This creates an additional problem of not knowing how wide certain trees are and how much fairway space they actually take up, which is critical.
- Using Fairway Fly-Throughs in addition to Perimeter Shots at various heights would be an ideal method for capturing the true essence of a hole.
- Using a premium 3D modeling software instead of a free version would create more robust models
Disc Golf Photogrammetry Pros and Cons
- 3D models can be used for precise tee-sign creation
- 3D models gives players a game plan without having played a course
- Utilizing drones is a cost efficient way to model a course or potential course zone
- 3D models yields better course design and play, allowing owners to charge players more per round of play
- Drones may crash on certain highly wooded courses if not driven carefully
- Some aspects of a model may not render properly in wooded environments
What do you think about disc golf, photogrammetry, or my experiment? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment on the article!